Mendes was born in Reading, Berkshire, England to Jameson Peter Mendes, a university professor, and Valerie Helene Barnett, an author of children's books. His father is from Trinidad's ethnic Portuguese community, and his mother an English Jew. His grandfather is the Trinidadian writer Alfred Mendes. He attended Magdalen College School, Oxford and graduated from Peterhouse, Cambridge, with a BA in 1987.
Mendes first attracted attention for his production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in the West End which starred Judi Dench before he was twenty-five years old. Soon he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company where his productions, many of them featuring Simon Russell Beale, included Troilus and Cressida, Richard III and The Tempest.
He has also worked at the Royal National Theatre, directing Edward Bond's The Sea, Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, and Othello with Simon Russell Beale as Iago.
In 1992 Mendes was appointed artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, an intimate studio space in London's Covent Garden which he quickly transformed into one of the most exciting venues in the city. His opening production was Stephen Sondheim's Assassins which reveled in the show's dark, comic brilliance and rescued it from the critical opprobrium it had suffered on its American opening. He followed this with a series of excellent classic revivals, many of which attracted some of the finest actors and biggest stars of the decade.
In 1994, Mendes tackled Lionel Bart's Oliver! which is based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. Mendes, a long time fan of the work, worked in close collaboration with Bart and other production team members, William David Brohn, Martin Koch and Anthony Ward, to create a brand new staging of the well known classic. Bart added new lyrics and music as well as refreshed dialogue. Brohn and Koch worked with the composer on new music material as well as revising the orchestrations. Mendes brought Jonathan Pryce on board to play Fagin. Pryce starred alongside Sally Dexter as Nancy. Both Pryce and Dexter were well known for their classical work and were widely acknowledged for their work on Oliver!. This production is the longest running show ever to play at the London Palladium closing in 1998. This version recently re-opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London's West End to great acclaim, with Rowan Atkinson as Fagin. Rupert Goold has adapted Mendes' original direction for this production, and it has been extremely well received.
Mendes is also known for his highly acclaimed production of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret. In this version, Alan Cumming played Emcee and Natasha Richardson played Sally Bowles. Once again, he decided to approach a classic piece of theatre with a fresh look, revisiting the character of Emcee amongst others. This production opened at the Donmar, moving promptly to Broadway. Cumming and Richardson both won Tony Awards for their work. A cast recording of this production is available.
He has also directed Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, Stephen Sondheim's Company (which had the first ever African American "Bobby"), Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus and his farewell duo of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, which transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As artistic director Mendes also gave some of the country's finest younger directors the opportunity to do some of their best work: Matthew Warchus's production of Sam Shepard's True West, Katie Mitchell's of Beckett's Endgame, David Leveaux's of Sophocles's Elektra and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing were amongst the most critically acclaimed of the decade. The Donmar's present artistic director, Michael Grandage, directed some of the key productions of the later part of Mendes's tenure, including Peter Nichols's Passion and Privates on Parade and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.
In 2003, Mendes directed a new production of Gypsy. Originally, he planned to open this production in London's West End, but when this failed, he decided to go straight to Broadway with it. Bernadette Peters played Mama Rose and Tammy Blanchard played Louise. The show's author Arthur Laurents has expressed disappointment in Mendes' direction.
Mendes made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed and box-office success American Beauty, starring Kevin Spacey. The film grossed US$356.3 million worldwide and had a 2373% ROI. The film won the Golden Globe Award, the BAFTA Award and the Academy Award for Best Picture. Mendes won a Directors Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe Award, and the Academy Award for directing American Beauty.
Mendes's second film, in 2002, was Road to Perdition, which grossed US$181 million. The aggregate review score on Rotten Tomatoes was 82%; critics praised Paul Newman for his performance. The film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor, and won one for Best Cinematography.
In 2005, Mendes directed the war film Jarhead. The film received mixed reviews, receiving a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate of 60%, and a gross revenue of US$96.9 million worldwide. The film focused on the boredom and other psychological challenges of wartime, instead of being a traditional combat-action film.
In 2008, Mendes directed Revolutionary Road, starring his wife, Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet, along with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kathy Bates. In a January 2009 interview, Mendes opened up about directing his wife for the first time:
|“||I would open my eyes in the morning and there Kate would be, going, 'Great! You're awake! Now let's talk about the second scene.'||”|
Mendes completed work on a comedy-drama called Away We Go, which opened the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film follows a couple searching across North America for the perfect community in which to settle down and start a family. The film stars John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O'Hara, and Melanie Lynskey.
Mendes is starting pre-production on a film adaptation of the acclaimed 1971 Tony-winning Broadway musical Follies and has announced his intentions to film an adaptation of the novel Middlemarch in the near future.
According to ComingSoon.net, Columbia Pictures has purchased the rights to the Preacher graphic novel series and have hired Sam Mendes to direct it. He will also be an executive producer for the American movie remake of the British mini series Lost in Austen.
On January 5, 2010, news broke that Mendes was in negotiations to direct the 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise. At the time, Plans for the production were underway and filming was to begin as early as June, with an eye toward a 2011 release. Previous Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were last known to be the writers of the screenplay, along with Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan. Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli will presumably produce, and Daniel Craig will continue his run as 007. On April 10, 2010, Mendes was officially confirmed as director by Broccoli herself.
Recently, Mendes pulled out of negotiations to direct futuristic thriller The Hunger Games because MGM is ready to move forward with production on Bond 23. The film has a release date of November 9, 2012.
Mendes married British actress Kate Winslet on 24 May 2003 in Anguilla in the Caribbean. The pair met in 2001, when Mendes approached his future wife about appearing in a play at the Donmar Warehouse Theater, where he was then artistic director. Their son, Joe Alfie Winslet Mendes, was born on 22 December 2003. Mendes also has a stepdaughter, Mia Honey Threapleton (b. 12 October 2000), from Winslet's first marriage to assistant director Jim Threapleton. The couple announced their separation on 15 March 2010.
Mendes was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.
|Year||Film||Credited as||Oscar Nominations||Oscar Wins||BAFTA Nominations||BAFTA Wins||Golden Globe Nominations||Golden Globe Wins|
|Year||Award||Film or Stage Play||Result|
|1989||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Most Promising Newcomer||The Cherry Orchard||Won|
|1995||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Director||The Glass Menagerie||Won|
|1995||Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director||Won|
|1996||Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director||Company||Won|
|1998||Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical||Cabaret||Nominated|
|1999||Academy Award for Best Director||American Beauty||Won|
|Golden Globe Award for Best Director||American Beauty||Won|
|2002||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Director||Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night||Won|
|2003||Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director||Won|
|Society of London Theatre Special Award||N/A||Won|
|2008||Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture||Revolutionary Road||Nominated|